• Multi-lingual Leadership

    by  • August 3, 2015 • OD and L&D • 0 Comments


    Time to rethink the language of MBA programmes

    Time to rethink the language of MBA programmes

    Not long ago I met with an MBA professor. A learned chap, highly achieved, quite seasoned. He is one of those professors who consults in organisations outside the rather prestigious university in which he teaches; one of those professors who researches and publishes papers. The lot.

    Seeing as I take some issue with the current MBA discourse, I decided to ask him about what he teaches, what he advocates and what impact he thinks it has on today’s economy.

    The answer he gave me was “it’s just a common language for managing businesses.”

    It’s a great answer and it’s very sensible. My challenge was, “but what if this winds up the only language businesses know how to speak?” and I clarified that there are other languages businesses need to communicate (other than finance, marketing and sales) in order to be successful.

    To which, he responded “you cannot manage a business without understanding a P&L or a set of accounts.”

    And while I got his point, I’m not sure he got mine.

    My point, which I affirmed (and was the conversation killer), was that there is so much more to running a successful business other than its finances and its accounts. Granted, a business needs money to keep running, but it also needs good systems and good processes and it needs good people to make it all happen.

    And more importantly, the word “engagement” is becoming so important, not just to the employees, but to the customers, as well.

    I increasingly get the feeling that something gets lost in translation, between the language of the pennies and pounds and the language of experience.

    When you only speak one language…

    There is a limiting factor to speaking one language. Anyone who’s gone travelling outside their own country will know that. But, I hear you say, English, for example, is widely spoken.

    You are correct, I will answer, and then tell you about the time I had to get from Zurich to some poxy town about 60km away in a cab, and the driver didn’t speak a word of English.

    You may roll your eyes at me, and say, but how often does that happen?

    I will smirk at you knowingly and tell you about the time I caught an early morning train from Berlin to Schönefeld Airport, and halfway through the journey the train stops and the tannoy speaks German, and everyone gets off and I have no idea what’s going on because – clearly – we’re not at the airport.

    And you might give me a stern look.

    And I will nod and tell you about the time an older cyclist approached me on the train from London to Cambridge (where I live) and tried to fathom which station he should get off at because he needed to reach a village that was a bike ride away and not on the train line. And he spoke only French and my French consists mostly of “je ne parle pas français”.

    The allegory:

    There are more and more of these little incidents where we get stuck in our organisations and stuff happens. And it is increasingly so that this stuff is made out of another language, a language that is not money, that is not a P&L, that is not a set of accounts.

    (And any marketer will tell you that their language has been constantly changing since Google made Analytics).

    Simply put, this isn’t the kind of problem that money will fix. Not directly, anyway.

    What other language?

    Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me standing on the People soapbox, shouting “rah rah People!”

    I’ve been to enough rodeos to know that it isn’t always the language of people. Some of it is the language of systems, some of it is the language of efficiency, some of it is the language of process. Sometimes it’s a weird hybrid language that’s a little bit of everything.

    And, yes, sometimes the language of money gets thrown in.

    Not bilingual. Multilingual.

    What I’ve learned from in all these rodeos, is that speaking one language is not enough. Speaking two languages isn’t enough anymore either.

    The more languages you speak in your organisation, the more likely you are to better understand the issues that get it stuck.

    So get in there and spend some time learning more languages outside of those they teach you in your MBA. Or outside those you’ve learned as you got promoted.

    And if you are one of those people who contribute to delivering and MBA programme – please consider teaching more languages.

    Dankjewel. Danke. ありがとう(Arigatō). Merci. Dziękuję. 谢谢 (Xièxiè). Obrigado. Tak. Grazie. Gracias.


    Do add more thank you’s in your language. Comment below!

    Also, do you think that the current discourse of MBA is helpful to today’s business environment and economies?

    Let’s do something about it. Write below, or email@me or @tweet.


    Photo credit to Daino_16 via freeimages.com.

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